Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by a long-term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. Individuals with a personality disorder have a low moral compass or conscience, as well as a history that is likely to include maladaptive behaviors such as crime, legal problems, or impulsive and aggressive behavior. Not surprisingly, antisocial personality disorder is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition.
Antisocial personality disorders can consist of several variations; however, the most prominent delineations are sociopaths and psychopaths.
Unfortunately, many people use the terms psychopath and sociopath almost synonymously. The primary reason the terms are often used interchangeably involves the limited differences that define the terms.
Notably, there are many similarities between the two disorders, including disregard for the law; lack of regard for the needs or the feelings of others; absence of empathy; the tendency to blame others and make excuses for their own behavior; lack of emotional attachment; engaging in deceptive behavior; lacking feelings of remorse or guilt; and a greater likelihood than individuals without the disorders to participate in illegal activities.
Although mental health professionals often group sociopaths and psychopaths together, criminologists differentiate between them based on their outward behavior.
Differences Between Psychopaths and Sociopaths Include:
• Psychopaths do not have a conscience
• Sociopaths have a weak conscience
• Psychopaths are more manipulative and calculating than sociopaths
• Sociopaths are much more likely to blend in with society than psychopaths
• Psychopaths are typically willing to pretend they care about or are interested in the feelings of others
• Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves
• Psychopaths are often very intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions
• Sociopaths are typically impulsive. They act without thinking about the consequences of their actions
• Psychopaths are usually callous, yet charming
• Sociopaths often display irritability
• Psychopaths can be almost obsessively organized
• Sociopaths are usually less organized in their demeanor. They might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger
• Psychopaths can typically maintain normal social relationships
• Sociopaths have a difficult time establishing and maintaining relationships
• Psychopaths will often be very successful in their careers
• Sociopaths have a difficult time achieving career goals and maintaining employment
Additionally, it appears that some of the antisocial behaviors of sociopaths can dissipate over time, while the same cannot be said of the behavior of psychopaths. According to the DSM-5, the symptoms of antisocial personality tend to remit over the course of life, especially during and beyond the fourth decade of life. However, the DSM-5 notes this remission typically only involves a decrease in antisocial behaviors, not a full reduction of all symptoms.
Despite the similarities in the characteristics of psychopathy and sociopathy, it is highly unlikely that a single person could possess the attributes of both disorders. It is possible, however, that a person’s attributes might be borderline between a psychopath and a sociopath making it difficult to distinguish between the disorders.